Most writers have to promote their work. Even famous writers do book tours and readings. Less famous writers—e.g., me—do more, at least if they want their books to succeed, which is to say, if they want to broaden their readership and essentially sell more books. Big publishing companies do a lot of promotions for their top selling authors; small presses put the onus on you. The Internet is the most effective promotional tool, although there are effective “real world” promotional activities, too. Here are some of the things I do:

Make a wesbsite for yourself (e.g., ww.dharlanwilson.com) that features news, links to published works, reviews, interviews, etc. Additionally, use existing social networks for promotional purposes such as Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Keep a blog where you post information about your writing and the writing process. Blogger and Wordpress are popular blog publishing services. I use Blogger at dharlanwilson.blogspot.com. Increasingly, authors simply use their blogs as websites.

Keep a list of contacts, ranging from friends and family to editors and readers, to whom you send press releases and updates about your writing. Over the last five years, I have amassed a list of thousands of people, and I'm constantly adding more people to the pool. In addition to contacting them via email, I also snailmail promotional postcards whenever I have a new book come out.

Ask local bookstores and libraries to stock your books.

Set up book readings and signings at bookstores and libraries. (NOTE: Some bookstores and libraries will be more receptive than others. And some will be better venues than others. I have done book readings/signings at places where three people have attended and where hundreds of people have attended.)

Depending upon your genre, attend conferences and conventions. As I mainly write science fiction, fantasy and horror, I have attended Horrorfind, the Science Fiction Research Association's Annual Convention, the World Fantasy Convention and the World Horror Convention as well as the more "literary"-minded AWP conference. These are just a few. Nationwide there are hundreds of conventions held every year.

Query magazine and journal editors about reviewing your book and/or running an interview with you.

Do podcasts.

Join reading groups in person and online using Yahoo or Goodreads.

Make business cards for yourself-as-author and hand them out. Make postcards for your books and send them out. I have made both types of cards using the website Zazzle.

Publish stories in online and print journals. The more you publish, the more your work will be read, and the more people will know about you.

Over the years, I have used these techniques to varying degrees. If you want to endure as a fiction writer, and especially a novelist, you must think about writing not only as a mode of expression and artistic representation, but as a business.


Anybody who seriously pursues a professional or extracurricular career in fiction writing will quickly learn that rejection is an intimate part of the gig. Both neophyte and veteran authors receive rejection letters for their work, mainly from editors of magazines and publishers. Sometimes rejections are sent out because an author's writing is objectively bad and in need of mechanical, narrational, stylistic and/or thematic revision. As the former editor of an online magazine called The Dream People, however, I have found that often it is not bad writing that leads to rejection but rather writing that does not fit well with the type of stuff published by a given venue. Furthermore, sometimes a piece of writing may be a well-crafted, strong fit for a given venue, but that venue may have received lots of well-crafted, strong fits from thousands of authors in one month; inevitably many good pieces of fiction are canned.

Whatever the reason for rejection, different editors go to different lengths to convey their messages between anywhere from one week to as much as two years. Usually rejected authors receive short form emails or letters that say something like: "Dear Soandso. Thank you for your submission to Blanketyblank. We are going to pass on this piece, but we wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere." Some editors don't send out rejections at all and only contact authors who they publish; in this case, silence is your rejection letter. Other editors provide detailed feedback, although this is uncommmon given the growing number of submissions received by magazines and publishers.

Here is a rejection letter I received for a flash fiction I sent to the literary magazine Glimmer Train. As you will see, it is quite long—among the longest I have ever received. As you will also see, it is a form letter that does not speak directly to my submission. I include it here because I think it contains a number of helpful tips, although in some cases these tips are subjective, the editors unknowingly projecting their ideas as to what constitutes "good" writing onto everybody else.

Featured Book

Judy Budnitz. Flying Leap. 1998.

REVIEW: "The title is apt; this nimble debut collection of 23 stories takes a variety of chances, impressing by its audacity and originality. Budnitz, a Village Voice cartoonist whose fiction has appeared in literary quarterlies, seems a kind of homegrown surrealist, launching expeditions into strange terrain from such disarmingly mundane settings as back porches, hospital waiting rooms, and crowded city streets ... Throughout, Budnitz's wry, conversational tone is nicely leavened by precise lyrical passages. A good mix, overall, of the fantastic and mordantly funny."—Kirkus Reviews

I discovered Budnitz in the late 1990s in Writer's Digest, a magazine I once subscribed to that was very useful to me as a fledgling writer. She is not a prolific author, but her work consistently garners wide acclaim and is stylistically and thematically arresting.

Readings & Assignments

Journal Entries: [11] Write an honest and sensitive description of your parents, a mythological beast, and a ghost. This is a 3-part entry. [12] Have some devious fun writing a flash fiction saturated with as many clichés, mixed metaphors, passive constructions, and other versions of verbal obesity as you can parodically pour into it without sacrificing readerly understanding. Get them all out of your system, every single silly one. When you're done, never write another.

Journal: Submit all of the entries you have written this quarter in the same MS-Word document via Pilot. In addition to entries you have written on your own, there were 12 topics assigned in modules 1-7. The minimum required number of entries is 24. DUE DATE & TIME: Thursday, Apr. 22, 11 a.m.